How do you know if your boy is too aggressive? How can you tell when his rough and tumble behaviors cross the line?
“Cops and Robbers” Fantasy Play
Boys will often be found playing “cops and robbers” themed games, where they are the good guy taking on the bad guys and saving the world. I see this all the time in my play room. In fact, here is a picture of the most popular “bad guy” in my room. He has been kicked, beat, shot, burried, and thrown accross the room. Months ago, he lost his arm, but it did not hinder his popularity any. This week, he lost his leg, yet I’m sure he will go on playing his role as evil in the world. I’m actually very proud that these boys have mustered up courage to beat this bad guy and ensure that good resides over evil!
This type of play is normal for boys. PBS has a great article on this issue and a quote by teacher Jane Katch sums this up nicely:
”If a boy is playing a game about super heroes, you might see it as violent. But the way he sees it, he’s making the world safe from the bad guys. This is normal and doesn’t indicate that anything is wrong unless he repeatedly hurts or tries to dominate the friends he plays with.
When To Worry
I hear from quite a few parents that they, or the teachers, feel their son is aggressive. They are often coming to see me for concerns of hyperactivity, anger, or poor behaviors at school.
I don’t like to use words loosly when it comes to a person’s mental or behavioral health, so when I am told a child is being aggressive, I definitely want to investigate this further. I have a brief mental checklist I use to learn more.
If you have concerns about your son’s aggression, start by asking these 5 simple questions.
1. Is he intentionally causing harm to others?
If the answer to this question is yes, there is definite cause to address the issue immediately.
- Empathy Training: It may be as simple as giving him some lessons on empathy to bring awareness of how it feels when they are hurtful towards others. For some exercises on empathy, check out this link.
- Defensive Behaviors: Perhaps this child feels they must inflict harm as a defense towards physical or emotional bullying. Some adult intervention is needed asap. For some ideas on helping kids with bullies, visit this link.
- Personal Gain or Pleasure: If the child is inflicting harm on others and feels pleasure from their pain, there are likely issues going on here that require help from a mental health professional. Talk to the child’s pediatrician regarding your concerns.
2. Is he aware that his behaviors are causing harm?
We often assume that kids or teens are aware of their surroundings, but it is quite often the opposite. Many times, I notice children flailing about, running wildly, without noticing they are in the way of other people or that their body is making contact with others. They run into others, step on their toys, etc. and adults often label this as “aggression.” I don’t consider this aggression. Behavioral training on self-awareness and impulsive control would be a good start to address the behaviors if this is the case.
3. Is this a hyperactive child?
The summary for this question is going to be similar to the one above. Hyperactive children are often energetic and impulsive. They may not be aware how their behaviors and energy affect others around them and come off as aggressive at times.
Children spend a lot of time indoors these days, but no matter how times change, they are still kids. They need to run, play, and be silly. Boys often need to be more physical than girls do. Make sure your child get time outdoors and is allowed time for physical activity every day! It’s important for their physical and emotional wellness and will provide an appropriate outlet for their energy.
4. Does this child have the ability or know the appropriate way to communicate his needs?
The ability to communicate needs and wants is a huge factor in assessing aggressive behaviors. If a person cannot communicate effectively, or their attempts are not noticed, they will become frustrated, angry, and feel there is a lack of options to get their needs met.
- Speech or Language Issue: An inability to communicate may be an issue with their speech and language and an evaluation by a Speech Language Pathologist is recommended.
- Education: The child may have the ability to communicate, but not the proper education. If children are not taught or modeled appropriate behavior, they will experiment. Sometimes they find they get their message across by using inappropriate means, but it works so they stick with it.
5. Does he have appropriate social skills?
I have found that boys are often aggressive towards others when they do not understand social cues or have poor social skills. For example, a boy in elementary school hit another little girl when he wanted her to play tag. Rather than asking first if she wanted to play, he hit her. Teaching him how to make friends would decrease these aggressive behaviors.
These 5 questions are a good place to start when assessing whether a boy is too aggressive. By the way, I googled “aggression” and here is the definition:
- Hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.
- The action of attacking without provocation, esp. in beginning a quarrel or war: “the dictator resorted to armed aggression”.
In summary, raising boys is an adventure, to say the least! They are full of adventure and curiosity. Try to find healthy outlets for your son’s energy and help him to channel this into good!
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